Former NFL Players Show Signs of Brain Degeneration

Football players tackle each otherThe brains of 87 of 91 deceased former National Football League (NFL) players tested positive for chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), according to researchers with the Department of Veterans Affairs and Boston University.

CTE is a degenerative brain condition caused by repeated blows to the head. Originally identified in boxers in the 1920s, many doctors are expressing increasing concerns that the condition might also affect football players. CTE is linked to a host of brain issues, including Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

The Brain Effects of Playing Football

The only way to test for CTE is to directly examine the brain—impossible while a person is alive. To test for the effects of repeated head trauma, researchers studied the brains of 91 former NFL players at the nation’s largest brain bank. Eighty-seven brains showed degeneration consistent with CTE.

Researchers looking at brains from the brain bank had previously found signs of CTE in 96% of NFL players as well as 79% of all football players. Of a total of 165 brains of former professional, semi-professional, college, or high school players, 131 showed signs of CTE.

Traumatic brain injuries can lead to CTE, but doctors have become increasingly concerned about repeated minor trauma. Forty percent of the brains that tested positive belonged to defensive and offensive linemen. These players come into regular contact with one another, suggesting this regular contact may cause the most damage.

Concussions in the NFL

The findings have added to concerns about whether the NFL is doing enough to protect its players. A group of players who filed a class action lawsuit against the NFL settled their suit in 2015. Under the settlement agreement, the NFL must give as much as $5 million in medical care to retired players who have serious medical conditions associated with repeated head trauma.

The NFL says it is working to reduce the rate of concussions and points out a 35% decrease in concussions during regular games between the 2012 and 2013 seasons. In the 2012 season, 173 players experienced concussions compared to 112 during the 2014 season.


  1. Almasy, S., and Martin, J. (2015, April 22). Judge approves NFL concussion lawsuit settlement. Retrieved from
  2. Breslow, J. M. (2015, September 18). New: 87 deceased NFL players test positive for brain disease. Retrieved from
  3. What is CTE? (n.d.). Boston University. Retrieved from

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  • bradyfan


    September 22nd, 2015 at 5:12 PM

    Duh! Why is this some kind of new surprise? Guys running at each other like mad beasts and slamming into each other… what do we think? That there would be no residual damage from that sort of violent impact?

  • Mark


    September 23rd, 2015 at 10:50 AM

    While I do feel sorry for the families who have been hurt by this there is just no way of knowing when some of these players could have sustained these injuries. Most of them have bee playing since they were kids, high school and college, and yes now in the NFL. So unless this can be pinpointed as only a problem within this professional league then I have a hard time buying the fact that this one association has to be held responsible. These are adults that we are talking about, and they can choose whether or not they want to play this game.

  • douglas


    September 23rd, 2015 at 2:31 PM

    and to think that this is coming from them just being involved in what essentially is a kid’s game

  • Terrell


    September 24th, 2015 at 7:43 AM

    Is there any indication that this has gotten worse over the years? Have these brains that are being studied been to players who are more current than the ones who played back in the 50s or 60s?

  • CathyB


    September 24th, 2015 at 10:36 AM

    So anytime that someone asks why I don’t let my sons play football this is the only reasoning that I need.

  • collin


    September 25th, 2015 at 8:33 AM

    Look it is a physical game and with those kinds of physical games of course there will be risks. The league has done everything that it can to lessen the numbers but it is still a job hazard that they get compensated very well to perform.

  • Taylor


    September 26th, 2015 at 10:58 AM

    I’m beginning to wonder if there is anything that we can’t find some fault with.
    I am sure that this is terrible for those who are suffering with it but… there are other things out there too that should demand our attention and our concern and we just don’t hear as much about those.

  • mike


    September 27th, 2015 at 7:44 AM

    so the reality is that if this wasn’t a sport that brought in so much $$$ then this would have ended years ago

  • Cole


    September 28th, 2015 at 10:26 AM

    It is very scary to understand just how much damage we are intentionally inflicting upon ourselves all for the pusuit of the love of the game.

  • Red


    September 29th, 2015 at 10:43 AM

    If the NFL didn’t once recognize that this is a big problem, then they do now, but you can’t go back and change the things that happened years ago. I do think that there should be some compensation for medical bills and for the families, but they also need to see that with every job aside form a very few come some risk factors, and they are choosing to remain a part of a pretty risky game.

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